There are fears bars will be forced to close down in Adelaide following a huge hike in liquor licencing fees that are being slammed as “defacto lockout laws”.
Last week, the South Australian government revealed details of a new, risk-based licensing fee structure based on a 2016 review by the Hon Tim Anderson QC.
Under the new system, venues can use a fee calculator to determine their base licensing fee based on eight different categories, followed by a variety of additional costs dependent on capacity, trading hours, location and type of venue.
The system requires all alcohol-selling venues in “high risk” areas to pay additional fees. It triples the cost of licences for some small bars and increases them sevenfold for some pubs.
For example, large hotels that opt to stay open until after 5am will be asked to pay an annual fee of $30,550, up from $12,312.
Late night venue operators have slammed the new regulations as “de facto lockout laws”.
Sugar nightclub owner Driller Jet Armstrong has told The Adelaide Advertiser the price hikes have forced him to consider closing the venue (pictured above), as the club faces a nearly six-fold annual fee rise, to $15,000.
“Our margins are incredibly thin,” Driller said. “I don’t do this because I’m making a hell of a lot of money out of it. I do it because it love it and, as an artist and DJ and music venue owner, I want to promote Adelaide to the world.
“A city should have a night life after 2 o’clock. They want all business to be shut down by 2am. It is a de facto lockout law.
“I’m certainly not going to just accept it. I’m going to fight this all the way, and try to mobilise as many industry people that I can to tell the Government this is not the way to go,” he said.
Meanwhile, laneway bar Bank Street Social – one of Adelaide’s most popular night time venues – is located in an area deemed to be “high risk”. It is considering cutting back opening hours or increasing prices to cover a rise from $1000 to $6000 in its annual liquor licence fees.
“It’s definitely going to have to make us look at our numbers again and reassess,” co-owner Simon Orders said. “It’s the cost of sales I guess we’ve got to look at as well, and whether it’s worth increasing (prices) but crossing your fingers and hoping it doesn’t turn away customers.
“If you haven’t got a full house and you’re trading late, you are going to be definitely looking at closing early.”
Opposition treasury spokesman Stephen Mullighan (pictured above with Orders) said Bank Street Social was a “great success story” and businesses like it shouldn’t be “punished with higher taxes”.
He met with Bank St Social Orders and says hotels and bars across the state are being stung by this “$3 million cash grab”.
“The question has to be asked where this government’s priorities are,” he said. “This was a government that promised lower costs in the lead-up to the last election.”
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said officials from the Consumer and Business Services department would work with venue operators as reforms rolled out, and some could save money by shifting to new categories of licence.
“The new structure brings SA in line with other states around the country,” Chapman said. “An online calculator has been developed that will help licensees understand how their fees are expected to change, as well as the factors that influence those costs under the new structure.”
Treasurer Rob Lucas told ABC News it was “nonsense” that the changes would create lockout laws by stealth.
“The Government doesn’t want to see lockout laws, the Government doesn’t want to reduce the vibrancy of Adelaide’s nightlife and we’re positive — and all the advice we’ve received — is that that won’t occur,” he said.
“We’re not going to see the equivalent of lockout laws that have occurred in Sydney.
“They’ll have to make the decision as to whether they want to trade up until 5am.
“If they only trade until 4am, there’s a $9000 reduction immediately on the size of the liquor licensing fee they will be charged.”
Large bottle shops to be hard hit
Lucas said the new regulations were not designed to target small bars. Instead, large-scale bottle shop operators would be the government’s biggest source of revenue.
Large bottle shop chains face much higher costs as fees increase for some operators from $805 per store to $6900.
“The biggest revenue source of this [change in fees] will be big corporates that own large numbers of packaged liquor outlets,” Lucas said.
The new liquor licensing system will take full effect from November 2019, with all existing licences and applications to be frozen from September 23.